This morning has me facing a big reality check in my ability to deal with “unforeseen circumstances”. In short, I’m beating myself up pretty good this morning.
As I write this, we’re at about 30 hours without power. I realize that for some of you, this is nothing. For us, it is extremely unusual. I’ve lived within a 25 mile radius of where I am now my entire life and to the best of my recollection we’ve never gone more than 24 hours without power. Outages are usually resolved within 12 hours, most in less than 8. So yes, we’ve historically been a little spoiled.
But that was then… Our utilities company (Pacific Gas & Electric) has been really dropping the ball the last couple years. One of my colleagues that lives close by, but in a more rural section, has routinely gone without power for 4-5 day stretches half a dozen times a year since 2019.
Around 5:00am today – 27 hours into the failure we got an update from the Utilities stating the “expected” restoration is by 10pm TOMORROW. This is unprecedented in our area. We’ve lived in the same apartment for 16 years and have never, ever gone 3 days without power.
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’ve been a big believer in preparedness since my days as a Boy Scout back in the 70’s and 80’s. Emergency preparedness has been part of my job for the last 20+ years. I’ve been an active member of my Town’s Community Emergency Response Team (C.E.R.T.), I’ve trained with County Fire Depts. in two different counties, and done FEMA emergency response training. In short, I know this stuff, and have a knack for imagining a “worst case” for any scenario.
I’ve spent years and countless dollars preparing for emergencies and this minor blip caught me with my pants down…
Don’t get me wrong. We’re not suffering or in any kind of danger, but I have never felt so unprepared in my life.
I’ll start at the beginning…
When I woke up Tuesday morning, I just went to the gym expecting that by the time I got home the power would be back on, but stopped off at a 7-11 on the way home to get coffee for the Mrs. and I, just in case. Which turned out to be a good thing, ‘cuz the power was still out when I got home.
I showered and dressed for work by battery operated lantern and got ready for a day at the office. The Mrs. happened to have the day off and was going to be home, so before I left I pulled out our “solar generator” and hooked up the TV and our modem so she wouldn’t be bored and also have the capability to recharge her phone if necessary. I left for work fully expecting the power would come back on at some point during the day. So far, so good.
By mid-afternoon, still no power and no update from PG&E on restoration. By this time, we’re getting concerned about the food in the fridge and freezer.
I left work a little early so I could stop by our mini-storage unit and pick up our “big” cooler, then detoured to the nearest Quickie-mart and grabbed 20 lbs. of ice.
I got home to find the Mrs. had distributed candles throughout the apartment and had a couple battery lanterns running as well. She’d turned the solar generator off to conserve energy – it was down to about 70% capacity by that time.
I got busy loading the contents of the fridge into the cooler, only to discover we only had cooler capacity for about 2/3 of the refer, using 2 coolers and an insulated cooler bag. Not good.
The freezer was packed pretty solid, so it acted as sort of a cold-battery. Everything was still pretty much frozen solid, but I hooked it up the to generator for a couple hours to recharge the cold, and put the small insulated bag into the fridge for extra insulation.
After all that, I ran up the road where they had power for some takeout tacos and burritos. Then we unplugged the fridge, and hooked up the modem and TV, watched a little TV for a distraction and then got ready for bed.
Again, I was expecting a resolution overnight. Turned out to be wishful thinking.
I got up this morning and went to make some coffee. First problem, I cannot find (in the dark) our kettle. We ordinarily use an electric kettle, but I bought a “camping” kettle for situations such as this. Well, I couldn’t find the darn thing anywhere. (FAIL!) No worries, says I, I’ll just boil the water in a regular pot. Now for the stove. I purchsed a single burner propane stove for emergencies several years ago. Nice little unit, never had to use it. I’ve got a dozen bottles of propane for it, which I found immediately, but again could NOT, for the life of me, find the stove. (FAIL!) No worries, says I, I’ll just grab the Esbit stove out of the go-bag. So I went to the wife’s go bag, and NO DANG STOVE!! (FAIL!) I know I got one for her, and was sure I put it in there, but I emptied the bag and it was not to be found. Then I had to dig out my go-bag, and turned one up.
I set up the stove, put the pot of water on and let it start heating. Unbeknownst to me, this little stove would NOT bring the water to a boil. Why was it unbeknownst to me? ‘Cuz I never trained with it! (FAIL!) I got impatient after the second fuel tab, and made the coffee (in a French press) with water that maxed out at 161 degrees. It wasn’t gross, but it wasn’t good either.
Another shower and shave by lantern light, then thought I should run the fridge a bit more before I left. At this point the generator is down to 12%. I was able to run the unit for about 30 minutes and then it died out at 0%.
Now I’m back at work, thinking about all the food that will likely be spoiled by the time the power comes back on.
So, a lot of lessons learned here.
I had a good solar generator BUT I had only one extension cord to plug things into it. (FAIL!)
Once the battery was dead, I had no way to recharge it since there is NO sun for the solar panels. (FAIL!)
I had a little backup battery for charging cell phones, but I’d let it die by not keeping it on the charger, so it was useless. Using that for charging phones could’ve given us a little more capacity on the generator. (FAIL!)
I wasted time and added stress looking for the propane stove, which I never found. (FAIL!)
We were both having issues with our cell phones – they were barely working without wifi. We realized we no longer have an old fashioned “land line phone”. We have the line, we just didn’t replace the last phone when it broke. And the last one was a cordless phone, which needs electricity so it wouldn’t have served us well anyway. (FAIL!)
Our “big” cooler is wholly insufficient for emergencies. Way too small. It’s fine for cookouts or weekend camping trips, not preserving the contents of a whole fridge/freezer. (FAIL!)
Also, it occurred to me that had the power been out at our storage place, I wouldn’t have been able to get to our cooler at all…
Having go-bags is GREAT, but clearly just throwing stuff into a backpack without a clear inventory is a rookie move. (FAIL!)
Having a bunch of emergency supplies is also great, but having said supplies so disorganized you can’t find what you need, when you need it, is plain dumb. (FAIL!)
We did have a couple fortunate things, our hot water is still working and we had heat in the apartment. That was especially lucky, as our furnace hasn’t worked for about 3 years, and we just got a new one a few days before Christmas. Up til then we were relying on electric heat. We’d have been sunk if that were still the case…
All things considered, this has just been embarrassing. But I have learned a great deal from this excersize and can guarantee that the next time will NOT be like this.
Most importantly I’ve learned there is a HUGE difference between “knowing” and “doing”. I know a lot about survival and preparedness but I’ve never really had to put that knowledge to the test before. Now that I have, at best a very kind instructor might give me a C-. Test your gear folks. You don’t want the first time use to be during an emergency situation, trust me on this one.
I’ve got a lot of work to do…
Thanks for stopping by. Be careful out there!